Microsoft pulls “Hey Cortana” feature from its US Android app

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple’s Siri vs. Microsoft’s Cortana on an iPhone.

If you’re part of the minority rocking a Windows Phone 8 or 8.1 smartphone loud and proud, and if you were hoping to update to Windows 10 Mobile, we’ve got some bad news for you. Not even two weeks later, though, and the company has disabled the digital assistant’s hands-free feature on Android. “Hey Cortana” allows users to open Cortana and give her commands just by saying those two words. For the first time since its launch in April 2014, Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-activated assistant, is now available on smartphones other than Windows devices.

A surprise move that speaks volumes about Microsoft’s newfound flexibility and willingness to abandon convention, the Cortana app works quite well on Apple’s iPhone. According to the app’s changelog on Google Play (via WinBeta), the latest version includes “improved app stability” and “enhanced call and text features.” But the bullet point states, “Removed ‘Hey Cortana’ feature for US market.” Ready to think outside the (ad) box? Yet because Siri is stitched into the iPhone’s operating system, it’s the only voice assistant that can perform commands at the touch of the home button. At such a crucial time when Microsoft needs to hold onto the few loyal customers it still has, it really couldn’t afford to make them wait even longer.

The good news is that Microsoft says it is “temporarily” disabling the hands-free feature, indicating that the company hopes to get it working properly at some point in the future. “Hey Cortana” is not available on iOS, and now no longer works on Android. That’s because the Microsoft-run assistant maintains a list of the users’ preferences — what it calls its “notebook” — to ensure it’s providing relevant information to the user. Or, if you tell it you like Indian food, when you ask Cortana to find a place for lunch, it’s more likely to serve up a place with naan or curry on the menu.

Cortana’s notebook currently has about 15 categories of information that users can customize to make Microsoft’s assistant smarter, including everything from the user’s academic background to their favorite sports teams. In this way, Cortana is more like a real personal assistant than Siri, because it almost has a relationship with the user, learning preferences over time.

But that’s not to say the iPhone doesn’t learn — iOS 9’s proactive intelligence suggests apps based upon times of day, calculates travel time to appointments based on traffic, and can even guess who is calling you by mining your email for unknown phone numbers. Still, Apple’s assistant has the ultimate advantage: Users can call for help simply by saying “Hey Siri.” “Hey Cortana” doesn’t work on an iPhone, just like how Google Now’s “Okay Google” doesn’t do squat on Apple’s devices. Since Cortana is a cross-platform service, it shares users’ data and preferences over a wide range of machines, from Surface computers to Android tablets and Apple iPhones.

And since Microsoft’s phones haven’t exactly flown off the shelves, Windows users have seemed like they were halfway connected in a fully interconnected world.

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